Steve Baragona, VOA News
The Oregon farmer discovered wheat in his field that survived treatment with the popular weed killer Roundup. Roundup is made by the seed and chemical company Monsanto.
The company has created genetically modified corn, cotton, soybean and canola crops that tolerate Roundup. Monsanto also had field-tested Roundup-tolerant varieties of wheat. The company never had the modified wheat approved or brought the seeds to market. But Michael Firko with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the wheat had passed safety inspections.
“Although there are no wheat varieties that are approved for unrestricted planting, we have no safety concerns related to planting of this transgenic wheat at this time,” said Firko.
Monsanto abandoned the genetically modified wheat project largely because customers in Europe and Asia are especially wary of what are known as GMO crops. The discovery of unapproved wheat in Oregon has already prompted Japan and Korea to suspend some imports, at least temporarily.
“Our customers don’t want it. So we, as wheat producers, don’t want to be producing it,” said Mark Welch, an agricultural economist with Texas A&M University. Though the U.S. is the world’s largest wheat exporter, Welch said this incident could affect that standing in a competitive world marketplace. U.S. farmers are at a disadvantage because production costs are higher here than in competitor countries, he said.
“If we’re going to maintain a place in world markets, we have to primarily do it on two fronts: one on quality, and the other on reliability. And this raises a red flag, of course, when something like this happens,” said Welch.
Right now it is not clear how this happened. U.S. regulators are working to trace where the genetically modified wheat came from. While there is no evidence yet that it has entered the food supply, the USDA is working to make tests available to customers seeking confirmation.
Meanwhile, many farmers are taking a wait-and-see approach. We reached wheat farmer Jerry McReynolds out in his spray truck.
“For me personally as a producer it’s not causing any grief at all. Of course, we don’t know what the whole story is.”
What he does know is that he is in the second year of a serious drought that is reducing his harvest.
“We’ve done all kinds of things to catch water when we do get rain. And we will. Someday. And we’re going to be ready. But right now, it’s tough,” said McReynolds.
Tough growing conditions across the U.S. wheat belt are a big factor weighing on the world grain markets, too. So far they seem to be balancing out concerns about the discovery of unapproved wheat, says Kansas State University economist Dan O’Brien.
“So you’re balancing reduced supply with an issue that, on the demand side, may or may not turn out to be a larger issue in the longer run,” said O’Brien.
Prices on global markets have not changed much since Wednesday’s announcement. But O’Brien cautions that it is still early in the investigation. More surprises could be on the way.
Wisconsin’s 556-megawatt Kewaunee Nuclear Power Station, located 27 miles southeast of Green Bay, permanently shut down yesterday after its owner, Dominion Resources, Inc., was unable to find a buyer for the 39-year old facility.
According to Dominion, the decision was purely economic; Kewaunee could no longer sell its electricity to utilities that could buy it cheaper from power plants fueled by natural gas.
Kewaunee went into service in 1974, but in 2008 was granted a 20-year license extension that would have permitted it to operate through 2033.
The recent boom in U.S. natural gas extraction, brought on by hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), has led to a market glut and a precipitous drop in prices — from about $12 per million BTU (mBTU) in 2008 to about $2 in 2012.
That Kewaunee is privately owned brings some uncertainty to the eventual decommissioning of the plant, since surcharges levied for such purpose are usually available only to publicly owned facilities.
In all, decommissioning is estimated to cost $900 million, and could take as long as 60 years.
Chances are that in the next few days, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere will exceed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in about 4 million years.
Recently, Mauna Loa Observatory on the big island of Hawaii has been regularly recording daily CO2 levels above 399 ppm, with several hours already exceeding 400.
Atmospheric CO2 as recorded last week at Mauna Loa Observatory. Source: Scripts Institution of Oceanography.
Considering that carbon levels tend to peak in mid-May, one or more daily averages above 400 in the next few weeks is a near certainty. Yesterday’s reading, May 5, was 399.54 ppm.
While crossing the 400 ppm threshold is largely symbolic, the rate at which atmospheric carbon is increasing is anything but. When Mauna Loa began measuring CO2 in 1958, CO2 was running @ 317 ppm. Unless we begin to seriously slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions now, we’re on track to surpass 450 ppm within 30 years.
The Keeling Curve shows concentration of atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa since measurements began in 1958. The sawtooth nature of the curve reflects the annual cycle of seasonal differences. Source: Scripts Institution of Oceanography.
Mauna Loa Observatory, operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, not only has the longest continuous history of monitoring CO2 concentrations, but thanks in part to its location, its measurements are regarded as the baseline standard for atmospheric carbon.
At 11, 335 feet (3,397 m) above sea level, Mauna Loa’s sits above low-level, local pollution and temperature inversion layers. Its location in the mid-Pacific also isolates it from major sources of pollution.
A powerful, 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeastern Iran today at 3:44 p.m. local time (10:44 UTC), about 31 miles (50 km) from the Pakistani border, and 121 miles (195 km) SE of the city of Zahedan.
With the quake centered in a sparsely populated region of mountains, deserts and small villages, the extent of damage remains largely unknown. So far, Iranian television has reported at least 40 deaths but offered few other details; Pakistani news has reported 6 known deaths but hundreds of collapsed mud structures.
It is hoped that casualties and damage will be limited by the relative depth of today’s earthquake, at 51 miles (82 km) beneath the surface.
Shocks were felt across a wide region, shaking buildings and causing evacuations in Qatar, Dubai, Karachi, and 1,500 miles to the east in New Delhi.
Described as the most powerful earthquake to strike Iran in more than 50 years, today’s follows a 6.1 magnitude event on April 9. That quake, centered along Iran’s Persian Gulf coast, was blamed for more than 3 dozen deaths and more than 800 injuries.
The first phase of the London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, became fully operational on April 6, and is expected to produce enough renewable electricity to power nearly half a million homes a year while reducing CO2 emissions by more than 900,000 tons each year.
The London Array is located in the outer Thames Estuary, approximately 20 km. off the coasts of Kent and Essex in waters up to 25 meters deep.
Phase One covers an area of 100 sq.km. and consists of 175 3.6 MW Siemens turbines, two offshore substations and an onshore substation at Cleve Hill near Graveney. Combined, phase one has a combined peak capacity of 630 MW.
Turbines are arranged in a grid aligned to the prevailing southwesterly wind. Spaced 650-1,200 m apart, they are connected to each other and the offshore substations by cables buried in the seabed.
Offshore construction of the London Array began in March 2011 with laying of the first foundation; the last turbine was installed in December 2012.
“It has been a complex operation but I am delighted that the commissioning of the wind farm has now been completed on schedule, despite the worst of the winter weather,” said Project Director Richard Rigg.
If approved, a second phase would raise the project’s capacity to 870 MW.
How often after a Big Energy disaster do we come to learn that the parties to blame were previously cited — sometimes more than once — for the same type of safety violation(s) that caused the latest incident?
Whether it’s a coal mine collapse, a ruptured pipeline, or a leaking oil well, what first appears to be an accident turns out to be an act of negligence that could have — and legally should have — been prevented.
In a segment that aired last Friday, Rachel Maddow discussed the ineffectiveness of government fines when levied against a company such as Exxon Mobil — one that brings in $122 million in profits each day, spent nearly $13 million lobbying Congress last year, and is, quite literally, “too big to care.”
Yet, despite the coverage, the obvious damage, claims and counter-claims, it’s difficult to understand these events in the overall context of pipeline safety without looking at longer time frames. Fortunately, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) maintains a comprehensive database of all pipeline incidents reported in the U.S.
Using data from 1993-2012, we focused on onshore and offshore pipelines carrying hazardous liquids (primarily crude oil and refined petroleum products) that suffered what PHMSA classifies as “significant incidents.” To qualify, a “significant incident” must satisfy one or more of the following criteria:
Of 5,727 reported incidents during 1993-2012, 2,079 met the PHMSA definition of “significant incidents,” accounting for 99.4% of the total volume spilled.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the number of significant incidents has declined in recent years, with only one year of the past 10 exceeding the 20-year average.
From 1993 through 2012, 2,709 incidents were reported involving pipelines carrying hazardous liquids and meeting PHMSA criterion for a "significant incident." Data source: PHMSA Significant Incidence Files, Feb. 28, 2013.
On the other hand, costs related to property damage, including the loss of goods being transported, have increased markedly in the most recent decade. Total property damage over the 20-year period from spills of hazardous liquids amounted to $3.2 billion — with 74% of that occurring from 2003-2012.
The spike in the graph below for 2010 reflects losses due to the Enbridge pipeline spill near Marshall, Michigan — the costliest onshore spill in U.S. history.
Costs for incidents prior to 2012 are presented in 2012 dollars. Data source: PHMSA Significant Incidence Files, Feb. 28, 2013.
Despite the massive 2010 Enbridge spill, the total volume of hazardous liquids spilled has declined in the most recent decade (1 billion barrels) compared to the previous decade (1.4 billion barrels).
The percentage of oil recovered, however, has declined somewhat, from 41% in 1993-2002 to 38.4% in 2003-2012.
Of the 2.4 million barrels of hazardous liquids spilled during the 20-year period, 1.5 million -- more than 60% -- were never recovered. Data source: PHMSA Significant Incidence Files, Feb. 28, 2013.
Looking at the causes of significant spills, nearly half were related to pipeline construction, equipment failure, and corrosion, suggesting that better engineering, more rigorous inspections, better monitoring and proper maintenance could go a long way toward reducing significant pipeline failures.
The city of Mannheim, Germany, is about to undertake a pilot project that just might pave the way to the future for zero-emissions and low-noise public transit – electric buses that charge themselves wirelessly while waiting for passengers to get on and off at bus stops.
The project is built upon Bombardier PRIMOVE inductive technology, which uses charging stations embedded beneath the pavement to transfer electricity to receivers built into the bus frame. Charging stations are activated automatically when a bus is present, and deactivated when a bus leaves the stop.
One advantage of the system is that charging buses en-route eliminates the downtime and additional vehicles that would be required if they were charged off-line. Another is that smaller batteries can be used, thus reducing both cost and weight.
During the 12-month demonstration program, 2 electric buses will take over an existing inner city route, providing real-world technical data and consumer feedback for future product development and deployment.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development has agreed to provide 3.3 million euro to fund the demonstration, which should be operational in the second quarter of 2014.
A similar demonstration of wireless, inductive charging is scheduled to be rolled out later this year on the University of Utah campus.
The National Center for Health Statistics this month released its latest report on U.S. life expectancy and mortality, showing progress in some areas but persistent disparities among ethnic and racial groups, gender, and geographic regions.
Life expectancy at birth for the overall U.S. population was 78.7 years in 2011 — unchanged from 2010. Across all races and ethnicities, life expectancy for women (81.1) exceeded that for men (76.3) by nearly five years.
Among racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics showed the highest life expectancy (81.4), followed by non-Hispanic whites (78.8) and non-Hispanic blacks (74.8).
The overall age-adjusted mortality rate in 2011 was 740.6 deaths per 100,000 population — and all-time low and 0.9% lower than in 2010.
When compared with the year 2000, 2011 mortality rates have declined across all population groups, whether defined by gender or race/ethnicity. The largest decreases occurred among males, with the greatest mortality reduction (22.6%) among non-Hispanic black males.
Mortality rates across the 50 states and the District of Columbia vary dramatically, from a low of 584.8 deaths per 100,000 population in Hawaii, to a high of 956.2 deaths per 100,000 population in Mississippi.
Generally speaking, states in the southeast had higher mortality rates than states in other regions.
In 2011, five major causes of death (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and accidents) accounted for 62% of all deaths in the United States; however, causes are distributed differently across different age groups.
For those aged 1–24 years, external causes far outweigh chronic conditions, with accidents, homicide, and suicide representing 64% of all deaths. At the other end of the age spectrum the situation is reversed, with chronic conditions outpacing external causes among those 65 and older.
The infant mortality rate is the ratio of infant deaths (prior to the first birthday) to live births in a given year, and generally regarded as an indicator of the overall health of a population.
The preliminary infant mortality for 2011 was 6.05 infant deaths per 1,000 live births — not significantly different the 2010 rate of 6.15 deaths per 1,000 live births.
When viewed over time, however, a clear trend emerges — between 1990 and 2011, infant mortality in the U.S. dropped 34%.